The improvements all focus on the ability of the server to divide the computer into several independent domains, each of which functions like a separate computer. The sizes of the individual partitions can be shifted without restarting the computer, allowing users to more easily adjust to shifting loads of different tasks such as responding to a surge in Web site activity or testing out new software during off hours.
The partitioning technique is drawn from mainframe computers. HP's next-generation "Superdome" Unix server, due in 2000, will come with this multiple domain feature, as will lower-end future servers from Sun also coming next year, executives have said.
One improvement to Sun's partitioning will increase the number of possible domains from eight to 16, said Jamie Enns, a Starfire marketing manager. "We frankly didn't think we'd have to go beyond eight," Enns said, but customers told Sun otherwise, he said.
Another improvement will allow administrators to set up prepackaged sets of instructions for adjusting the domains. The feature is intended to reduce the likelihood that a repartitioning will accidentally result in a mistake, such as switching a network-intensive task to a domain that has no network adapters, he said.
A third feature will allow different domains to communicate with each other across the computer's internal connection, no longer requiring network cards for the different domains. The internal speeds are comparable to high-end network cards, Enns said.
The internal network feature will be available next week, and the other two features will arrive in February, he said. All the features will be available as a free update to current users.
The E10000 machines, while a commercially successful product, are aging, analysts have said, and new systems from IBM and Hewlett-Packard are putting pressure on Sun. Sun's next-generation systems will come with the faster UltraSparc III processor, and the new high-end system will accommodate more than 100 processors, Sun executives have said.